West Coast Editor

The pipeline-stoking efforts that led to Pfizer Inc.'s research and development center in San Francisco have brought about another acquisition by the scrambling pharma giant - this time of CovX Pharmaceuticals Inc., a privately held firm with early stage technology that links peptides to an antibody scaffold.

Pfizer did not disclose the purchase price for La Jolla, Calif.-based CovX, which licensed the platform - described in a paper last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - from the Scripps Research Institute. The antibody scaffold lets peptides work their therapeutic magic longer, thus gaining the benefits of both the antibody and the peptide with the drawbacks of neither. Resulting products are dubbed CovX-Bodies.

Pairing an antibody for specificity with a small molecule for efficacy is nothing new. Examples include Branford, Conn.-based CuraGen Corp.'s CR011-vcMMAE, a fully human monoclonal antibody-drug conjugate at the Phase I stage. But Scripps' method, now CovX's (soon to be Pfizer's), reverses the strategy, placing a nonspecific antibody with a specific chemical targeting agent. (See BioWorld Today, July 14, 2006.)

CovX was founded in 2002, based on the research of Carlos Barbas and Richard Lerner at Scripps. "They've worked in the area of catalytic antibodies for quite some time," Simon Allen, chief commercial officer for CovX, told BioWorld Today, noting that the antibodies "originally were designed to cleave prodrugs, [but they found] you could use the activity of the antibody to link new molecules."

The firm's lead program, the thrombospondin-1 mimetic CVX-045, has reached Phase I trials, after an investigational new drug application gained approval at the start of this year. TSP-1 is a negative regulator of angiogenesis, so the compound could have uses in oncology.

Behind CVX-045, CovX has another anticancer compound, CVX-060, that could work against angiogenesis. That product is designed as a binder to angiopoietin-2. There's also CVX-096, described as a long-acting GLP-1 mimetic, for diabetes.

The CovX takeover is expected to close in the first quarter of next year, and the company will operate as a division of Pfizer's new Biotherapeutic and Bioinnovation Center, established this fall. CovX's scientists will stay on board. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 7, 2007.)

Pfizer could not be reached for comment, but the New York-based pharma needs all the help it can get, having lately lost patent protection for such high-revenue items as Norvasc for high blood pressure, the antibiotic Zithromax and the antidepressant Zoloft. Next, the allergy drug Zyrtec faces potential generic threats, along with, in the next few years, the anticholesterol pill Lipitor (atorvastatin), the largest-selling drug in the world.

Disclosing a 77 percent drop in profits for the third quarter, Pfizer has made various deals to beef up its pipeline, including a potential $1 billion-plus pact with Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Icagen Inc. to develop sodium ion channel modulators, and another with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, for DGAT-1 inhibitors in metabolic disorders. The firm was rumored as a potential buyer of Biogen Idec Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., but the takeover didn't happen. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 15, 2007.)

Separately, Pfizer said Tuesday that the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act has expired, and the firm's offer to buy Coley Pharmaceutical Group Inc., of Wellesley, Mass., can go ahead. Officials in Germany (where Coley also has operations) cleared the deal, too. The companies announced the acquisition, valued at about $164 million, last month. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 19, 2007.)

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